There are two schools of thought about job automation: one rejects the idea as robots "stealing" human jobs, while the other cannot wait to put its feet up and tuck into some Proust — finally, free time for all those 3,000-page beasts of literature! The reality, as usual, is somewhere in between. An increasing number of professions will become automated, but Bill Nye believes there will always be a place for human ingenuity. We started building complex machines centuries ago because there are things we would rather be doing — like building new machines, refining mathematics, continuing our education, or exploring the universe. There are some jobs it would be better for robots to have: industrial welding, driving trains, packing warehouse orders, admin — why not make our lives less strenuous? "We want to automate the world to the extent that is comfortable, but no more," Nye says. Job automation is scary in the way that large-scale change usually is, but Nye thinks it will be a positive inflection point for humanity, enriching our existence with more debate, art, invention, sport, and discovery. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Ian: Hey Bill. My name’s Ian and I’m a computer science student. So the fields of machine learning and robotics have been making technological advances and replacing human labor at a blinding speed. And at this point it seems almost inevitable that virtually all jobs are going to be automated in the future. So my question is this: When and if machines replace our jobs, what should we spend our lives accomplishing instead? Is there some greater goal that we should aim toward? Thank you so much.
Bill Nye: Machines are going to replace every job? What about this job right here man?! What about that, I’m thinking! What about that man?
So I think there will still be a great many jobs that require human involvement. After all, why have humans build machines if there isn’t something humans want to do? Like play baseball or argue about what machines are going to do.
So I claim that there’s a lot of jobs that we would all prefer machines do. I don’t know if you’ve ever made pancake batter mixing it by hand; It’s okay. Cake batter, mixing it by hand; It’s okay. But it’s easier to do it with an electric mixer.
I don’t know if you’ve gotten up every morning and adjusted the thermostat in your apartment or house, and then when you leave for work or school you turn it back down. And then when you come home you turn it back up, and then right before you go to bed you turn it back down. I don’t know if you’ve done all that, but automating that seems to me cool and nice.
I don’t know how much welding you’ve done of auto bodies. It’s a cool skill to develop, but it’s not one that really we all are going to need in the future.
My grandfather went into World War I on a horse. He was apparently a skilled enough horseback rider to live through it. It’s not a skill that most – I grew up driving a stick shift in a car. I can drive a stick shift. It’s not a skill you need anymore. I mean very seldom.
So it’s okay man! As jobs become automated humans will go do what humans want to do: Come up with new machines, come up with new ideas, new techniques in mathematics that will simplify things even more. Make discoveries of life on another world.
And what I still love about movies and television and computer videos: it’s still handmade. I so love that. The lights are put in by hand. We make these decisions about what questions to take from you by hand (or by brain). And I still love that.
So yes, we want to automate the world to the extent that is comfortable, but no more. We can do this man! It’s going to be great.
You go to the airport. You get on the train between terminals you trust that it’s going to drive you from one place to another without crashing because engineers have been very diligent setting it up. The train figures how much people weigh and their luggage, provides the right amount of electricity to accelerate and decelerate the train and we trust that. That’s good. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to want to travel. It’s good.
That’s a good question though. Carry on man.